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Record-Breaking Technology

Record-Breaking Technology Developed at the University of Dayton Will Have Significant Impact for Scientists, Consumers, Environment

Researchers at the University of Dayton Magnetics Laboratory have developed nanocomposite magnets that recently reached world record-breaking energy levels, marking a significant breakthrough in permanent magnet technology and signaling a new era in commercial and military technology applications, according to scientists. The magnetics lab is part of the University of Dayton Research Institute.

The impact of this breakthrough will be far-reaching, with benefits to the fields of scientific, medical and technology research and development as well as to the environment and economy, said Shiqiang (Sam) Liu, professor of materials engineering who manages the magnetics lab. "The future is very bright. This technology will effect everything, from faster and smaller computer hard drives to more efficient hybrid and hydrogen-powered automobiles to improved communication, electronic and medical devices,' Liu said.

Nanotechnology describes systems based on the scale of a nanometer, which is roughly 1/15,000 of the diameter of a human hair. Nanocomposite permanent magnet technology is more than 10 years old, but scientists worldwide have been unable to successfully synthesize nanocomposite materials -- which come only in powders or ribbons -- into solid, bulk magnets without loss of magnetic properties.

The UDRI team developed groundbreaking technology to synthesize these magnets using a rapid heat process to "weld' the composites together to create lightweight but solid and extremely dense, rare earth permanent magnets, which have the potential for great magnetic strength. They will also be tougher, more corrosion-resistant and, because of reduced rare earth content, less expensive to produce than other rare earth magnets, Liu said.

The challenge, he added, was to find a way to align nanometer-sized particles of hard and soft materials to create a texture in the magnet, he added.

The researchers have made significant strides in nanocomposite technology since March 2002, when they synthesized a nanocomposite permanent magnet that measured 4 of a possible 100 MGOe (MegaGauss Oersted, a magnet power measurement). In October, the scientists achieved a level of 12-13 MGOe. They reached 18 in November, 31 in December and 35 on Jan. 21 -- nearly one year ahead of projected schedule. Other worldwide attempts to create nanocomposite magnets so far have resulted in levels reaching only about 20 MGOe.

Because of the technical difficulties scientists encountered in this field, research in nanocomposite magnet technology elsewhere had dropped significantly, Liu said. "But because of the breakthrough here at UD, we expect to see a whole new wave of research,' he added. Liu will present his team's latest achievements at the 2003 International Magnetics Conference March 30-April 3 in Boston.

Michael McHenry, professor of materials science and engineering at Carnegie Mellon University, said the evolution of nanocomposite magnet technology from powders and ribbons to bulk materials "has been widely sought and anticipated.' "The search for high-energy-product nanocomposite permanent magnets is the subject of worlwide efforts,' McHenry said. "The magnetics community will be excited to learn the details of the UDRI team's accomplishments.'

Rick Fingers, deputy for technology in the Air Force Research Laboratory's power division that partially sponsors UDRI's nanocomposite magnet research, agreed. "We are very excited to share in the researchers' most recent success with the development of a nanocomposite permanent magnet that is sure to revolutionize many military and commercial markets,' Fingers said.

Liu said he and research partners Don Lee, senior researcher, and John Stanley Hilton, senior technician, "have been very fortunate that our sponsors have continued to support our work." The team's research is supported and managed by the AFRL and Office of Naval Research with funds from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. The University of Dayton team is affiliated with DARPA's metamaterials team based at the University of Delaware.

Dayton is not only the birthplace of aviation, but also the birthplace of modern rare earth permanent magnets. Scientist Karl Strnat, who discovered the strong magnetic properties of a rare earth cobalt compound in 1966 while working at Wright Patterson Air Force Base, joined the University in 1968 and established the magnetics laboratory in UDRI. Strnat and researchers Alden Ray and Herbert Mildrum pioneered the research and development of the first and second generations of rare earth permanent magnets.

February 25, 2003


University of Dayton Research Institute

300 College Park
Dayton, Ohio 45469 - 0101

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